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Archive for October 21, 2015

HALLOWEEN: Jack O’Lantern History & Macarons

Jack O Lantern Macarons

Yummy jack o’ lantern macarons from
Williams Sonoma. Here’s the history of
macaroons and macarons
. Photo courtesy


We love these jack o’lantern macarons, made exclusively for Williams-Sonoma by Dana’s Bakery.

We asked ourself: We know the history of Halloween, but not how the jack o’lantern got its name. So we researched it, and the History Channel provided the answer.


Pumpkins carved into jack o’ lanterns are an Irish-American tradition. But for centuries before any Irish immigration, jack o’ lanterns were carved from beets, potatoes and turnips and placed in windows of homes in what is now Great Britain, to ward off evil spirits on Halloween.

The jack o’lantern is named after Stingy Jack, a fellow of Irish myth. He invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but was too cheap to pay even for his own drink.

So he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin, which Jack would use to buy their refreshments.


Jack was not only stingy; he was a cheat. Once the Devil had turned himself into a coin, Jack simply pocketed it. No drinks were had that evening, but Jack was one coin richer. Clever Jack had placed the coin next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.


Jack eventually freed the Devil, under conditions including that, after Jack died, the Devil would not claim his soul.

When Jack died, however, God would not allow his disreputable soul into heaven. Jack then tried to get into hell. The Devil, who had previously committed not to claim Jack’s soul, would not let him in.

But the Devil was kind enough to send Jack off into the dark with a burning coal to light his way. To carry it, Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip. The spirit of “Jack of the Lantern,” subsequently shortened to “Jack O’Lantern” (and evolving to the lower case jack o’lantern) has been roaming the Earth ever since.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lantern by carving scary faces into potatoes and turnips, and placing them in windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets were used.


Jack O Lantern

The American jack o’lantern. Photo courtesy Burpee.


Immigrants brought the jack o’lantern tradition to the U.S., where they discovered that the native pumpkin made the biggest, scariest and best jack-o’-lanterns.


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RECIPE: Pumpkin Lasagna & Pumpkin Ravioli Lasagna


Pumpkin lasagna made in a Dutch oven.
Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma.


How about a festive pumpkin lasagna for Halloween or Thanksgiving?

One of the tips to enjoy a rich, hearty dish like lasagna is to serve it in smaller portions as a first course. Our friend Ruth’s Italian-American mother always served a pasta course before the Thanksgiving turkey.

You can buy delicious pumpkin ravioli and serve it with any sauce—Alfredo, butter, olive oil, pumpkin or tomato. You can make pumpkin mac and cheese, and for more fun serve it in a hollowed-out baby pumpkin garnished with shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas).

You can add diced pumpkin (or its stand-ins, acorn or butternut squash) to cooked pasta, purée the pumpkin into a sauce (here’s a recipe) or both.

The first recipe is from Williams-Sonoma. You don’t need a lasagna pan because it’s made in a Dutch oven. Find more delicious recipes on the website.

Our second lasagna recipe is even easier, because it’s a ravioli lasagna: ravioli is used instead of lasagna noodles.


Ingredients For 8 To 10 Servings

  • 1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon julienned fresh sage
  • 1/4 cup (1/3 ounce) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 yellow summer squash, cut into rounds 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick
  • 2 zucchini, cut into rounds 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jar (24 ounces) pumpkin pasta sauce or sauce of choice
  • 12 sheets dried ruffle-edged lasagna noodles, cooked to al dente
  • 1 pound Fontina cheese, shredded (substitute Emmental, Gruyère or Provolone

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

    2. STIR together the ricotta, sage, 3 tablespoons of the parsley and all the garlic in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

    3. TOSS the yellow squash and zucchini with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile…

    4. WARM the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in an oval Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add the yellow squash and zucchini. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F.

    5. SPREAD 1/2 cup pasta sauce in an even layer on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Arrange a single layer of lasagna noodles on top, tearing them as needed to fit. Spread 1/2 cup of the ricotta mixture on the noodles and scatter 1 cup of the vegetable mixture on top. Spread 1/2 cup pasta sauce over the vegetables and sprinkle 1 cup of the Fontina on top. Layer the noodles, ricotta, vegetables, sauce and fontina 3 more times, omitting the sauce and fontina on the last layer. Top with the remaining noodles, sauce and Fontina.

    6. TRANSFER to the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted and browned, 45 to 50 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of parsley on top. Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes before serving.



    If you don’t make lasagna often, you may find yourself struggling with the lasagna noodles. Bless the person who first thought of this trick: use cooked ravioli instead of lasagna noodles. Alternatively, you can use penne or other tube pasta, but ravioli supplies added filling.

    This recipe from Taste Of Home takes 25 minutes to prep and 40 minutes to bake.
    Ingredients For 6-8 Servings

  • 1 pound ground beef, pork or turkey*
  • 1 jar (28 ounces) pumpkin pasta sauce or sauce of choice
  • 1 package (25 ounces) frozen cheese or sausage ravioli
  • 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
  • Herbs of choice: basil, chili flakes, garlic, oregano, thyme

    Pumpkin Ravioli Lasagna

    In this lasagna, ravioli substitutes for the lasagna noodles. Photo courtesy Taste Of Home.



    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400F. Cook the meat in a large skillet over medium heat until no longer pink; drain the fat.

    2. LAYER in a greased 2-1/2-quart baking dish: a third of the spaghetti sauce, half of the ravioli and beef and 1/2 cup cheese; sprinkle with herbs. Repeat the layers. Top with the remaining sauce, cheese and herbs.

    3. COVER and bake at 400°F for 40-45 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 6-8 servings. If you have leftover fresh herbs, sprinkle them over the cooked lasagna.

    *Vegetarians can substitute TVP, textured vegetable protein.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Carrot Tartare


    Carrot Tartare

    TOP PHOTO: Carrot tartare at 11 Madison
    Park, served in custom-designed platters.
    Photo courtesy Trip Advisor. BOTTOM PHOTO:
    Simple but elegant carrot tartare at
    Restaurant Niven | The Netherlands. Photo


    Today’s tip is an illustration of how to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Take the humble carrot.

    Carrot tartare is turning up at the finest venues around the world. We recently had it as part of the 13-course tasting menu at 11 Madison Park in New York City. A walk away, it is served at the equally fashionable NoMad.

    We found other preparations as far apart as New Zealand and The Netherlands.

    At 11 Madison Park, the dish is culinary theatre. A shiny meat grinder is brought tableside. Beautiful farmers market carrots are ground as if they were sirloin.

    The shreds of carrot are then plated and served to each person with condiments, set into a custom wood platter. At 11 Madison Park, it’s all about the mix-ins, customized as you like. The assortment of condiments can vary.

  • On one occasion we had pickled chopped chives; quail egg yolks; quince mustard; sea salt, shaved smoked and dried beets; sunflower oil; sunflower seeds; shaved horseradish; pickled quince and pickled mustard seeds, served with mini squeeze bottles of spicy curried vinaigrette and mustard vinaigrette.
  • On a second occasion, our mix-ins included apple mustard, chives, grated horseradish, mustard flowers, pickled apple, pickled ginger, pickled quail egg yolk, smoked blue fish, sea salt and sunflower seeds, with squeeze bottles of mustard oil and spicy carrot vinaigrette.
    As with steak tartare, there’s a side of toast, here in the form of toasted whole grain bread. You can see the whole process here on YouTube.
    But you don’t need a meat grinder or a specially designed platter to hold the carrots and mix-ins. You can present the dish ready to eat.


    Here’s a recipe that arrives ready to eat. Great thanks go to Denise Kortlever, a Dutch cookbook author and creator of the website The Littlest Things, for obtaining the recipe. You must see her website; we want to eat everything on it!

    Her carrot tartare recipe comes from Niven Kunz of Restaurant Niven in The Netherlands. A young, Michelin star chef, his philosophy is “80/20”: 80% vegetables and 20% meat or fish. (His book of that title is not yet available in English.)

    You can make it in just 10 minutes. It can be served as a first course, or plated with an entrée protein.

    We also have a recipe for Beet Tartare.



    Serving Size: 4 Appetizer Servings

  • 1 bunch of carrots, peeled (we used a blend of yellow, orange, red and purple carrots from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 very fresh egg yolk*
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 4 anchovy† fillets, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers, drained and finely chopped
  • 1 dill pickle, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • Garnish: fresh microgreens, sprouts, or a chiffonade of basil leaves
    *It’s best to use organic eggs. If you’re concerned about salmonella, use SafeEggs pasteurized eggs or this technique to pasteurize eggs at home.

    †Don’t like anchovies? Substitute 2-3 tablespoons of a tiny dice of Granny Smith or other tart apple.

    1. GRATE the carrots coarsely on a box grater, Microplane or shredding disk of a food processor.

    2. BLEND with the other ingredients into a smooth tartare. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

    3. PLATE with a cooking ring (a.k.a. egg ring, English muffin ring or pancake ring). Place the cooking ring on a plate, fill with the tartare and press down with the back of a cooking spoon. Garnish with a green leaf.



    Carrot Tartare

    TOP PHOTO: Carrot tartare served with lamb loin and drops of black garlic, pea purée and turnip purée at Chameleon Restaurant and Bar in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo courtesy Trip Advisor. BOTTOM PHOTO: At Harvest On Hudson, local goat cheese is mixed into the carrot tartare. It’s garnished with arugula pesto and red beet vinaigrette. Photo courtesy Harvest On Hudson.



    Steak tartare, or tartar steak, is a meat dish** that got its name from the legend that the ever-invading Tartars†† did not have time to cook their meat, so ate it raw as they traveled on horseback.

    Steak tartare is made from finely chopped or minced raw beef or horse meat, plus seasonings. With its growing popularity over the last 30 or so years, other recipes have adopted the name. Salmon tartare, tomato tartare and tuna tartar are examples.

    **The typical steak tartare recipe comprises ground raw beef mixed with onions, capers, Worcestershire sauce and a raw egg, served with toast points. A French variation, tartare aller-retour, is tartare patty lightly seared on one side. Steak tartare is often served with frites (French fries). In Belgium, the dish is known as filet américain. American? What happened to the Tartars?

    ††The Tartars, also spelled Tatars, are an ethnic group from Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Most Tatars live in the Russian Federation. To Americans, the most famous of the Tartars is Genghis Khan, whose troops invaded Europe in the 13th century. The most famous Tartar-American is the actor Charles Bronson.


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    FOOD FUN: Halloween Mummy Apples

    I want my mummy! Photo courtesy Marci Coombs.


    Here’s a fun Halloween treat that makes a nutritious apple even more attractive than a piece of candy.

    All you need are apples, gauze and candy eyes. Here’s how Marci Coombs did it.

    You can set the apples out in a glass bowl, use them as place settings, or wrap them in cellophane bags as gifts or party favors.



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